What do I mean by reverse archaeology? That archaeology may have something to offer painting is less complicated than you might imagine. The painting that you see here is really 3 paintings in one, except that you can only see the last layer, or the current layer, to be more accurate.
This work started out as a monochrome image using a bitumen ground with a white chalk paint applied in alternate layers. The chalk layer acted as a kind of sgraffito surface that could reveal the darker tones below. At this stage, with the paint still wet, it was also possible to drag the surface with a wide squeegee, a technique used by the German artist Gerhard Richter to create unexpected marks and gradations of tone.
I guess I could have stopped at this point. The painting had already gained a rugged tactile quality with a richly textured surface. I had also used horizontal bands or sections to echo the characteristics of the Fenland landscape and aerial perspective. I reworked the painting a few days later. To be honest, I know the precise reason I made the next set of changes. I had seen a contemporary textile piece in a local gallery that comprised sections of worn, multi-coloured cloth, stitched together in vertical strips. The effect was mesmerising. The artist explained that the old clothing belonged to her husband, a farmer, and she wanted to embed and embody his work in the textile landscape.
I introduced several opaque layers of cold wax medium to the surface. These were stained with light ochre and I waited a few days for them to dry. I then scored regular horizontal lines through the surface to the bitumen. The painting at this stage was monochrome. It had a definite presence with a minimalist abstract quality. I had successfully avoided the trap of becoming overly decorative and too narrowly focused on detail. However, I didn’t stop at that point, hence the reference to reverse archaeology. Archaeology is a process of extraction and excavation, revealing the events of time. My paintings are a process of accretion and sedimentation, which disguise the origins of the work.
I became dissatisfied with the absence of colour in the work and I wanted to introduce a range of warmer, differentiated tones to the gridlike structure. I switched to acrylic paints and some metallic effects, which I applied selectively. As you know, acrylic and oil don’t mix particularly well, but this can be an advantage if you are striving to achieve an uneven, variegated colour. The last part of the process involved the application of heat with a heat gun. The intense heat allowed the bitumen to burn through the wax, reinstating the fine lines and increasing the textural qualities in the paint which momentarily bubbled and then resettled.
This is where I have arrived, and maybe this is where I should remain. Maybe the painting becomes less convincing each time I make a significant intervention. Maybe the earlier foundations and cumulative changes conjure a depth and a weight that may have lifted the work beyond the pedestrian. At this moment, the jury is out.
Let me know your thoughts, it’s always good to hear other viewpoints and opinions.